Giving Opera an Accessible Makeover

Glee made a cappella cool. SMASH brought Broadway into the fore. Now opera is next for Australian audiences with the ABC’s screening of The Divorce last week.

The Divorce

There are a number of barriers to seeing opera if you are a new audience member. Will you enjoy it? Will you understand it? Will you fit in with the upmarket, opera-educated crowds? Will you get enough value to justify the ticket price? And these are especially present when audiences look at opera within the entertainment landscape competing with big budget musicals, live orchestra performances of iconic movies and some incredible touring artists making their way through Australia’s stadiums. It is hard to justify giving opera a go if you have doubts surrounding whether you will enjoy it.

Until now . . .

Opera Australia is taking a big step towards increasing the relevance of its art form and breaking down some of these barriers with its latest work presented in a completely new way.

ABC presented Opera Australia’s latest all-Australian commission The Divorce last week as a four-part series of half hour episodes. The story was contemporary. The cast were some of Australia’s most well-known performers including Lisa McCune, Marina Prior, Hugh Sheridan and Kate Miller-Heidke. And the presentation was accessible. It is essentially Glee for opera – which is a great thing!

Glee was able to turn a cappella and musical theatre from dorky student pastimes into popular must-dos simply by changing the presentation. Introducing audiences to small amounts at a time within the comfortable, well-worn genre of teenage high school drama. Drawing on celebrities to bring in new audiences and provide resonance amongst these fans. This is exactly the winning formula The Divorce has drawn on to begin the journey towards returning opera to relevance.

The short half hour serial format introduced new audiences to the world of opera in manageable small chunks rather than introducing them to an entire two hour experience. The use of celebrities provided an incentive to tune in and try out this art form as well as providing validity for their fans – If my favourite celeb likes it enough to get involved then I should give it a go as well! Even the storyline was familiar to non-opera audiences featuring divorce, ransoms, secret affairs and not-so-secret affairs. Storylines which we see in popular dramas every night.

The Divorce is not a one-hit solution. It is merely the start of a significant journey towards bringing opera to new audiences. But combined with Opera Australia’s other clever (and guerrilla) strategies, including bringing musical theatre audiences closer to the fold through presenting operatic musicals, the future of Opera in Australia appears to be in rather safe and accessible hands!

The Divorce is currently available on ABC iView in case you missed the live showing last week.